Texas-born alt-country rockers Hogan Ellis & The West Texas Teardrops discuss their new record, “Texastentialism” recorded at Palm Creek Studios in Dripping Springs, and Swamp Studio in Austin.
What local artists are you listening to right now? What was the last group you discovered, and where?
I’m listening to the song “Abilene” by The Buffalo Gals a lot lately, but my perennial favorite is Mr. Willy McGee. He’s an artist that has written some very moving songs like “I’m Ready”, “Australian Waltz” and “We’ll Get High” that I go back to.
Fools is another band I try to catch whenever possible. Great punk rock show. I just saw Janeleo for the first time and look forward to what they do next.
Something that jumped out to me immediately with this collection is some stellar melody writing not just in the choruses, but in the verses. They really keep up with the energy of the more uptempo songs like “Poison Apples”. Do you have a specific process by which you write melodies? What part of the. songwriting process does this come in, typically?
Thank you. I have a tendency to work the tune in a few directions until I have a strong relationship between the phrasing, the lyric, and the melody. Songs like “I Pay Them to Poison Me” seemed to roll right off the tongue, while “Bluebonnet Rains” wasn’t so obvious.
I’m usually singing a variation of the melody each time, so it can naturally occur that the meter is longer or more words fit in. I think it helps give a sense of moving forward in the song to have the verses not be identical. The more fireworks the better.
Tell me about the title, “Texastentialism”. How did you choose it, and what does it mean in the universe of this record?
Of course it felt like a clever portmanteau, but the title, “Texastentialism” was chosen because it served as a blank slate. Hopefully, it has the effect of a nice suit and fits the songs. While it’s not a cornucopia of Texas musical styles, I think the record traverses the ground between rustic and urban. My adolescence was spent between North Texas and Far West Texas, so I’d like to think the record gradates from that desolation to a kind of lux at times.
What track, or specific part of this record, are you most proud of?
The moments that I think really came out on this record are the chord melodies in “Bluebonnet Rains”, the plucked strings in “Paradise in Your Arms” and the arranging and production on “Headlines”. There were so many talents involved in this record, but those moments serve to showcase the strengths of pretty much everyone involved.
There’s a bevy of killer guitar fills and solos that span classic country to inventive rock. Who do us guitar lovers have to thank for this component of the record, and what can you say about the approach to writing and tracking guitar on this record?
Send all thank yous and praise to Mr. Brady Mosher of Dallas, and Steven Carlson of Minnesota, both of whom are searchable on the inter-webs. As far as guitars, we just tried to send it. The live shows leaned heavily on guitar and so going into the studio we just let them off the leash. Not liable for face-melt.
“Look out these indie Austin kids wearing their fake eye lenses, they're just building on the basics, now the time I’m from ended.” We wouldn’t be Keep Austin if we didn’t highlight this line. As a lifelong Texan, can you speak on your current outlook about where Austin and/or the whole state is headed culturally?
I wrote that song when I was 16, and I wonder if that line doesn’t sound a bit snotty now. However, another part of me wonders why it should be an odd question to ask. It goes without saying that the state is changing rapidly to the point that we blush at some of the pride we used to have.
Still, I think all rustic places that are now urban have a sense of paradise lost, and that many urban places have an identity crisis going on.
What’s one issue or aspect to Austin today that particularly alarms you, that you don’t hear many others (peers, local news, media) talk about?
This could be a segue into controversial issues, but Prince made a whole record about that, so this isn’t untrodden ground. I work a day job that puts me all over the city and out into the surrounding suburbs and rural areas, so I see it all.
Part of me thought, “what issues aren’t we constantly harangued about?” The alarming thing I notice is how Byzantine all of our politics are. Despite all the kings horses and all the kings men it seems we’re always struggling with fairly basic issues: roads, cost of living, and identity.
Maybe that’s why we have so many local conspiracies and legends. There’s got to be a reason why things are so wonky!
What is your favorite legacy venue to play in Austin, or attend shows at? Are there any newer venues that you feel continue that old Austin spirit?
I always felt that The Saxon Pub really dignified the song. I always appreciated it when we performed there, and if you just rolled the dice and walked in to any venue in Austin, that one would serve you well. I’ve tried to creep out to some new spots, but am generally taken in by the Honky-tonk fare on most outings.
I’m trying to become a more user-friendly two-stepper, so Sagebrush, and Sam’s Town call my name frequently. Answering this made me realize I should get out more.
What is the state of Country and Country Rock in Austin right now, from your perspective?
I don’t have my finger directly on the pulse, but for starters I’m glad many of the traditional styles are still performed in the Country/Western genres. The cowboy will always be a romantic image, as will the rock and roller. Both seem to be alive and well here. All you need is something original to say.
Tell me about how you came about in Texas as an artist. Were there any struggles back then that don’t exist now? Or vice versa?
I’ve just always enjoyed having my own say about things. I write mock articles about issues that concern me that stay safely locked in a drawer, but the song format has just always been a very natural expression of a sentiment.
As far as struggle mine has always been perspective. For a long time I thought things had to be perfect to be good. That has had a crippling effect, but now it’s mainly the wearing of so many hats that is the main struggle. I don’t understand advertising my music.
What comes next for your group? And how can we best support your music right now?
Well, I just put out the first single which is “Ramona” with an accompanying music video. Check that out anywhere you like to stream music, or buy it on bandcamp. The second one will be “Paradise in Your Arms”, which has a music video in the works.
Also, I think it’s also good if you go to hoganellis.com and click on some of the things. Right now we need all the friends we can get, so thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to plug my music and for the thoughtful questions.